BLOG: One man's Europa League adventure with Swansea City
STEVEN Carroll from Manselton, Swansea, is editor of Swansea City fanzine “Swansea Oh Swansea”.
Here, he gives his thoughts on the Swans’ European adventure:
AS soon as we lifted the League Cup at Wembley last February my thoughts immediately turned to watching Swansea City in the Europa League.
We’ve been so spoilt over the last few years that watching us play on the continent was pretty much now the only thing I hadn’t seen so it wasn’t an opportunity I was going to let pass me by.
I gambled on us reaching the Group Stage as I thought we had a good chance progressing that far and decided I would pick the best one of the three to go to.
WhenValencia were drawn out of the hat I was literally jumping around my living room. Wow, what a draw! The top ranked team in the competition, easy to get to, weather would be boiling etc. The positives were endless.
I’d also stayed in Benidorm for my first boys holiday in 2006 and knew they were close in proximity so this would be the perfect place to stay, although I would not be staying at the hotel I liken to the one stayed in by the Inbetweeners boys in their movie this time.
Talk immediately turned to who was interested in going and what date the game would be. Sadly for a lot of my friends with them having only having three weeks notice they couldn’t get the time off which eventually left it down to be and Matthew but we just decided we wont get this chance again and there’s no way we’re going to let lack of numbers put us off.
I spoke to another mate Steve Davies on twitter and he was also interested in going and in the end myself and Matt booked ourselves into the same hotel as him and his other friends but elected to fly separately from Gatwick to allow us to attend Crystal Palace on the way back.
So the day finally came to leave and it was the 2:15am bus from the Quadrant to head to Gatwick for our 11:50 easyjet flight on Wednesday morning.
The journey wasn’t great to be honest, I struggled to sleep and the bus pulled over to pick people up in Port Talbot, Bridgend, Cardiff, Newport and Chepstow so it took forever.
We eventually arrived at Gatwick North at 8:30 checked in and had the first of many pints we consumed on the trip accompanied by a breakfast in the Wetherspoons.
Once it was time for boarding we bumped into Matt The Jack, his sister Lisa and Paul Stanley who were also on our flight so we had a quick chat with them where I filled them in on what to expect in Benidorm before we took to the skies.
We met another fellow fan on the plane Owen Lewis who’s from Horsham and he supports the Swans due to family ties and was heading to meet others in Valencia as soon as we’d landed.
On arrival into Alicante just over a couple of hours later we walked past Terry Venables who was just leaving (no doubt he knew the Jack Army were in town)!
With it only being a short trip only hand luggage was required so it was very swift exit from there and we caught a bus which cost 10 euros for the half an hour trip to Benidorm.
Once we arrived we met up with Steve and his mates Gareth, Mango and Pricey and headed into town to sample the nightlife and found a bar called TJ’s – a Welsh bar where many Swans fans had already congregated to watch the evening’s Champions League matches.
There we got talking to others who’d made the trip from south Wales and we met a guy called Mark and his wife who revealed to me his cousin was former Swan Lee Jenkins.
Of course thoughts instantly turned to would he be up for doing an interview in a forthcoming issue of SoS and I was kindly forwarded an email address to make contact with him so watch this space.
After the football had finished we made our way to the main strip and had a few drinks in “Café Benidorm” and “Champions” over the next few hours and were greeted by many other Jacks enjoying the night.
One Swans fan bore a resemblance to Jonjo Shelvey so the inevitable chant came his way and he mimicked the goggles celebration and posed for a photo whilst doing so.
However, he then protested with us not to put it on the internet as “my Mrs doesn’t know I’m here” Hahaha.
There were a few stories like that I heard on the trip. One supporter in our hotel had told his girlfriend that he was only going with his brother and staying in Valencia when in reality he was in a big group in Benidorm, hope she doesn’t accidentally stumble across this blog!
Staying with the same theme of white lies I finally met Robert Day or @sootyday as I had known him who took part in the “Meet the Jack” section of SoS last season. I particularly enjoyed his story about how he’d called in sick to watch us at Anfield in the Cup in 1990 and got spotted by his boss on TV but fortunately avoided the sack.
By now the drinks had been flowing for several hours and the Jack Army were getting progressively louder and drunker and in the end this led to a group of about 60 fans in the middle of the strip chanting various songs for a good twenty minutes or so with other holidaymakers looking on in utter bemusement.
The night did take a more sinister turn though when Matt lost his ID so he made an urgent phone call to cancel it but instead cancelled his bank card which I thought was hilarious although it would mean I’d have to sub him once we returned to the UK but for humour value it was well worth it.
Woke up at about 10.30 the next morning not in the best of states but the six of us reunited to catch a taxi to Union Jacks bar where our bus to Valencia would be running from on the other side of the resort.
There were three buses leaving from there in total and the bar was full of fans having a few beers before we set off on the journey. I managed to squeeze a few copies of SoS into my hand luggage so I attempted to sell them before we left and sold out very quickly which I was delighted about.
Time to hit the road!#
We departed at approximately 12:15, made a quick stop at a shopping mall to wait for other buses to catch us up and then proceeded on the motorway to Valencia.
We were all in great spirits and many chants were heard including some old favourites like “The one and only John Mahoney la la la la la” and “Oh Robbie James” along with Steve and Gareth’s recently made up “Come on Wilfried Bony, make the Swans fans horny, we’ll go wild wild wild” which drew a number of laughs before people joined in.
At this point Pricey said “Fair play everything’s gone great on this trip so far” about an hour into the journey.
They proved to be famous last words!
John Smith who was in charge of our bus announced we would have a quick service stop of 15 minutes which everyone was fine with as there was a chance for anyone to go to the toilet and/or purchase some refreshments.
Everyone returned in good time so we could continue our journey except for the bus drivers and as it got towards half an hour since we pulled over we were all wondering where the hell they were.
There were many theories for this but eventually after 50 minutes they reappeared having had a sit down meal over the other side of the service station and thought it was a 50 minute rather than 15 minute stop which was lost in translation.
Understandably they took some abuse from the fans as they reopened the coaches but sadly for my coach this was only the start. We were sat on the bus for five minutes with the engine running and still hadn’t moved and by now we all thought the bus driver was really taking the mickey.
The door at the front of the bus wouldn’t shut and the driver refused to leave the services until it was fixed at which point a number of expletives which can’t be repeated were shouted from all areas of the coach along with a rendition of “The driver is the captain of our ship, of our ship, and the ship is a tanker (you know the rest I’m sure).”
We all got off the bus as the driver tried to fix the problem and it looked as if we would have to get another coach which would have taken an hour which we were all fuming about and demanded taxis to be paid for by the bus company. This fell on deaf ears and we were told we’d have to wait.
During this time more Swans buses pulled in from other bars running trips and fortunately for us a few of them were mechanics who came to help us out with the bus and after their intervention they managed to shut the door and we all returned to the coach using the middle door and finally left after over an hour and a half at the side of the road (a huge thank you to those supporters who helped us out by the way, we were and are very grateful for the help you gave us)
We spent another 45 minutes or so on the road before finally pitching up in Valencia at around half past three. We were dropped outside the ground and my first thought was how amazing it was that we were going to be playing in there in just a few short hours.
The word amongst the fans was that they’d all congregated in Cathedral Square, some half an hour walk from the Mestalla so we made our way up there and when we arrived the party atmosphere was in full flow with endless chants on the go.
There’s some brilliant videos I’ve seen of the scenes outside Finnegan’s Bar and one of my favourites is of us all doing “ One man went to mow” with one guy holding a chair in the air and loads of supporters standing on tables putting their heart and soul into every word.
It was time for some much needed drinks now after that trip and whilst I was at the bar I bumped into Dai and Brandy who I was on a trip to Newcastle with last season along with Scott and Jonny who like everyone else were revelling in the experience we were having on the continent so far.
We also met Steve’s mate Lee Evans who was staying in Valencia as opposed to Benidorm and he joined us for a few pints as the pre match atmosphere started to build.
By the time it reached 6 o clock we made the journey back to Mestalla and were greeted by some Valencia fans who asked us if we’d have a photo with them which we were happy to oblige with and as we walked off shook our hands and wished us all the best but said we were going to lose. Fortunately for them they didn’t see us afterwards!
We entered the ground shortly afterwards, climbing the dozens of blocks of stairs which seemed to take an eternity but eventually made it to the top and we bumped into Owen from the flight who we had another quick chat with before taking our place in the stand.
The first thing that hits you is how different it is to the stadiums we’re used to in the way that there’s no roof on three sides due to there being such little rain in Spain.
The Mestalla was three tiered and we were placed in the upper to the left of the camera in the top corner. I made the most of the chance to have a few photos before the action started and then moved quickly to where my seat was ahead of the start.
I was delighted to hear Michael Laudrup had selected a more or less first eleven for the game as I was confident we could get a result after the way we’d played against Liverpool on Monday night if our best players performed.
The first key incident in the game saw Wilfried Bony race through on goal only to be pulled back by Los Ches defender Adil Rami who received a straight red card.
Cries of “Cheerio, Cheerio” quickly turned to “Adios, Adios, Adios.”This led to great amusement from the travelling contingent. We didn’t have long to wait for the main moment of glory as Bony finished with his left foot fromMichu’s cross to put us 1-0.
Glorious, what a moment for us Jacks to savour. Nathan Dyer should have made it two before the half was out but he pulled his shot wide as the Swans looked to ram home their advantage but the score remained the same at the break.
Just after half time a number of the Valencia fans in the lower tier left the stand to protest at the manager for ten minutes and I bet they wished they’d never returned as Michu put us 2-0 up not long afterwards after being slotted in by Alejandro Pozuelo and a couple of minutes later Jonathan De Guzman hit what can only be described as an absolute worldie of a free kick to clinch the game for us.
I usually can’t stand the Dutch International’s free kicks and think they offer very little goal threat but I really couldn’t argue with him this time.
The rest of the 90 minutes were played out in a party atmosphere for the 2,000 travelling band from south Wales who could scarcely believe what they were witnessing and were in full voice in support of our boys singing “Can we play you every week” to our beleaguered opposition. Eventually when the final whistle blew the Spaniards made their discontent clear by waving their, caps, handkerchiefs or what ever else they had as a signal that they felt they’d thrown in the towel but the one’s close to us did also clap our supporters as they departed.
We applauded and sung as our heroes came to thank us for our support and now had to wait to be let out by the police.
We then noticed Huw Jenkins and the other members of the board in the directors box applauding and pumping their fists in our direction and we returned the compliments in their favour.
Brilliant to see such passion from these guys who have done us so proud over the last dozen years and the adulation they were receiving from the travelling Jacks was thoroughly deserved.
Once they’d left the stadium though it did take what felt like an age for us to leave and now the chant’s were reaching new heights with “I can’t read and I can’t write” being sung at the guy mowing the pitch at the Mestalla, whoever thinks of these ideas is a genius!
After about half an hour we were finally let off the leash and allowed to leave and on my way out I went against one of my pet hates in football and decided to buy a half and half scarf. No doubt I’ll get criticised for this but I do have what I think is a valid excuse. The reason I’m not a fan of these scarves is because why would you want another team’s name on a scarf especially if we were playing Cardiff or something like that.
However if it’s a European game it’s a bit different as it’s more of a souvenir as you are unlikely to play them again and as I hadn’t been able to find a programme I wanted something to remember the day by and at a cost of five Euros then it would have been silly not to buy one.
As we waited for the bus to take us back to Benidorm we used the time to catch up with our fellow fans to discuss the unbelievable scenes we’d just witnessed.
My thoughts then turned to some of my close friends who are diehard fans who were unable to make it due to work commitments and no doubt elated at the result yet devastated not to be with us on this fantastic evening.
Hopefully their time will come at some point later in the competition.
The trip back was much less fraught than the journey to Valencia and only took an hour an a half and we didn’t bother with a stupid service stop this time much to everyone’s relief and we arrived back in Benidorm at 11:30 and went straight back to the strip to celebrate long into the night with our fellow Jacks.
When we arrived there we spoke to some Irish girls who we had a laugh with and I think they were in amazement at the amount of people from Swansea who were in such good spirits across all the bars. Over the course of the night we were all approached by a number of fans of other clubs including, Liverpool, Everton,Newcastle, Sunderland, Leeds, Bolton, Stevenage and Nottingham Forest all congratulating us and saying how well we’d played which added to the feel good factor around the place.
There was chanting again but not as much as the night before as I think a lot of fans were still struggling to take it all in.
One I did speak to was Chris Pridmore who told me he worked with my Uncle at the DVLA who is in his opinion an encyclopaedia when it comes to the Swans. Hopefully that’s knowledge that will be passed through to me in time!
After another very late night I must confess I felt absolutely dreadful the next day and went for a walk when I woke up in the hope this would make me feel better.
By the time I’d returned the boys had headed out for food so I went to meet them along the sea front and we headed to a bar called Tiki Beach for a few drinks.
What was meant to be a quiet session in the Sun turned hardcore when we started playing drinking games. These included “International Swans” where we’d go around in a circle and you’d have to name current or ex players who’ve won International caps.
We then moved onto word association which works as in if you say Farm, then something like Cow would be acceptable and so on.
Let’s just say though that what Mango associates with cows are not exactly what I would associate with them but I think it’s wise to leave it at that! By the time it was Gareth’s round he slipped and all the beers fell and soaked Steve which we all thought was brilliant but he wasn’t best pleased to say the least and Gareth of course had to get another round in!
We quickly popped back to the hotel to get changed before heading out again for our last night in Benidorm which was a lot busier than previous nights but by now many of the Swans fans had departed and the strip was full of people from other areas on Hen and Stag weekends.
Our night was a bit quieter than the last two though and we said our farewells to Steve, Gareth, Mango and Pricey who had been such great company during our time on tour and headed back to the hotel.
The flight back was at 4:20 in the afternoon and me and Matt arrived at Alicante in plenty of time and saw Matt, Lisa and Paul who were on our flight out and we caught up with them on what had been a memorable few days. Don’t think any of us were expecting how good it was going to be when we left three days earlier.
The flight took 2 and a bit hours and we were back at Gatwick by 6.30pm and then caught a train from there to London Victoria to find our hotel for the night.
You could tell I wasn’t in the best of states when I thanked the receptionist at the hotel by saying “Gracias” instead of “Hello” when he gave us our room key.
Looking back now I wish I hadn’t. The hotel can only be described as an absolute disgrace. It was a box room with a double bed and a TV that was only about 20 inches wide. £70 it cost as well, what an absolute rip off!
I would like to point out though that this was the only thing Matt sorted on the whole trip so I think it’s wise that I continue to organise everything in the future!
We were planning to do a night out in London but after three days of hitting it hard decided against it and stayed in to watch Match of the Day instead. After a reasonable night’s sleep we made our way down for what was meant to be a full English breakfast but if that’s a full English then I’m a Cardiff fan.
All that was on the plate was cheese, beans and ham and if you wanted more than 1 glass of orange juice you had to pay.
That was the last straw so I immediately got up packed my things and left and decided it would have to be a McDonalds breakfast on the way to the station to depart for Crystal Palace.
We made it back to Victoria for the 9:30 train to Thornton Heath and then waited Gerts and Daz who were on the official supporters coaches to arrive before returning to the Wetherspoons opposite the station where we were joined by Gerts brother Stephen and his mate David who’d travelled from Stevenage for the game.
Whilst we were supping our pre match pints a gentleman came onto us and tried to claim he was Paul Ince’s dad.
Now I’m not going to deny, there was a resemblance to Ince but the whole thing was so strange that I have no idea if he was lying or not. Eventually he departed and talk immediately turned to Thursday night’s game where they asked us what it was like and my words straight away were “It was the best experience I’ve ever had watching the Swans and if we go on a run we’ve got to go to as many as we can”.
I think they were pretty much sold on the idea and after ordering some food we made our way to Selhurst Park.
On arrival I was greeted by Steve who I hadn’t seen since the last night in Benidorm and he’d only arrived back in Swansea some 11 hours earlier from his flight to the East Midlands and was now in London for the game. Now that’s dedication!
I also saw SoS contributor Matthew Harrison who I had brief chat with and as with anyone else who asked told them what they’d missed out on in Spain. We then took our seats in the ground ahead of kick off.
By now I was thinking no way this will top Valencia but within 80 seconds we were put in dreamland again as Michu slotted the ball home to send us all into raptures. We should have doubled the lead when Chico hit the post after 4 minutes but we dominated the rest of the half and 1-0 flattered our inferior opponents at the break.
We did make them pay just after the restart though when debutant Alvaro Vazquez set up Nathan Dyer who found the corner of the net which you never felt Palace would come back from. We had chances to make it three but it didn’t matter, the job was done and we were back in the top half after what Ian Holloway described an an “embarrassingly good” performance.
Time to return to Swansea.
We said our farewells to the boys who headed for the bus and myself and Matt headed for the station picked up our luggage from the hellhole hotel and got the tube from Victoria back to Paddington an hour before the train.
A quick stop in KFC ensued and we then found a pub for the end of the Manchester derby and was astonished to see it was 4-1.
At the game’s conclusion it was a short walk across to Paddington station and boarded the train back which took four hours due to maintenance in the Severn Tunnel and we finally arrived back in Swansea just after half past ten.
So how do I look back on the whole experience? I can honestly say the time I spent in Spain were a few of the best days of my life and I’d give anything to go through it all again. I’ve heard many people say the Europa League is a distraction but after Thursday night I never want to hear those words again. We are more than good enough to stay up and do well in Europe so we must continue to treat it seriously.
Don’t tell me that you haven’t dreamed of us reaching Turin next May over the last few days.
After winning in Valencia anything’s possible isn’t it? I know you need some luck but if Middlesbrough and Fulham can make the final then why not Swansea? Everyone who was lucky enough to be at the Mestalla would be devastated if they were told now they’d never do another European away game again. Maybe, just maybe this is the start of another very special journey.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you Swansea City. You’re making dreams come true!